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‘The Bar Is Going To Be A Lot Higher’: Building Wellness In A Post-Pandemic World

SageGlass windows in the offices of Tombola in Sunderland, UK

Most people have probably never measured the air quality inside their offices or given a second thought to touching the handles on the front doors of their apartment buildings. That’s all about to change.

As states reopen, Americans will likely be much more vigilant about how the indoor spaces they inhabit affect their health. More than ever, tenants will expect the management of their buildings to do more to protect and promote their well-being.

“The bar is going to be a lot higher, not just for virus prevention, but for technology and design that promotes health and cognition,” said Namrata Vora, vice president of sales and operations at Saint-Gobain SageGlass and a promoter of healthy building practices. “The owners that can demonstrate that they’re doing more for tenant wellness are the ones that will thrive.”

The push for making buildings healthier places to live and work is not new by any means, but it has gained traction in recent years, with the advent of WELL Building certification and the proliferation of on-site wellness amenities like fitness centers and saunas.

But the coronavirus has brought a new urgency to the healthy buildings trend. People are much more likely to spread and contract the coronavirus indoors than outside. Building improvements whose value might have seemed questionable a year ago, like ventilation systems that filter and bring in fresh air, are going to be the bare minimum going forward, Vora said.

Keeping occupants physically safe from infection is only the beginning, though, Vora said. With work-from-home growing more widespread, office workers will be more cognizant of the impact that their buildings have on their mental health as well.

“Do I have to wear a mask all day? Can I look outside at all, or am I feeling cooped up? Am I breathing recirculated air? Those are the sorts of second-level wellness questions that are going to come out of this,” Vora said.

While many owners are focused on very short-term measures that they can take to reopen their buildings, some could benefit from a longer-term view of occupant health, according to John Macomber. Macomber, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and the co-author of Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity, predicted that as leases shake out in the coming years, there will be a flight to wellness-enabled buildings that promote occupant productivity.

“If landlords can say, ‘My building is demonstrably healthier than my competition, and I can measure it,’ they’re going to be able to grab the tenants during a downturn, and charge a premium for their space in the recovery,” Macomber said on a Bisnow webinar in April.

Some of the metrics that landlords can use to help illustrate their commitment to wellness include high air quality with low levels of pollutants and carbon dioxide, as well as optimized natural light to reduce eye strain and improve cognition

Other improvements could include reducing ambient noise and connecting occupants to outdoor views with large windows, which have been shown to improve mental health. Joseph Allen, the other co-author of Healthy Buildings, and a faculty member at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, described on the Bisnow webinar how the general thinking around wellness has gone from talking about comfort levels to talking bluntly about health.

“The idea of thermal or visual ‘comfort’ really puts the onus on a user: If you’re feeling uncomfortable, that’s on you,” Allen said. “But we now know that this is a real health issue, that people’s cognitive function is impacted by being too hot or too cold, or by their areas being too bright or dark. If you’re not providing a healthy workspace or living space, that’s money walking out your door.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and SageGlass. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.